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Advice for Getting Started with Contax II?
Old 05-13-2018   #1
contaxNewb
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Advice for Getting Started with Contax II?

Hi,
New member, newbie to RF photography, but I recently acquired a '36, Contax II with a Carl Zeiss Jena, Sonnar 1:2, f=5cm lens from the original family owners. Cool provenance, was used in the War, and I am excited to give it a try.

Any advice on where to even start my education with it? I've been reading old threads, and getting some insights there, but having been through this same steep learning curve with vintage bicycles a while back, I figured I'd ask experts on best way to get at least partially up to speed with?

Any thoughts or guidance would be sincerely appreciated!! Thanks!
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Old 05-13-2018   #2
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http://www.butkus.org/chinon/zeiss_i..._contax_ii.htm
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Old 05-13-2018   #3
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Have you verified that the shutter speeds are correct and that the rangefinder focuses properly?
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Old 05-13-2018   #4
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Welcome to RFF!

If you haven't seen it, Cameraquest has a good write-up here: https://cameraquest.com/zconrf2.htm .
Beautifully made and designed cameras, used by many professionals of the time and in direct competition with Leica. Robert Capa took the famous D-Day landing shots with his Contax bodies (not sure, either II or III). High point of the brand was the quality of the Zeiss lenses. Although they look similar, the post-War IIA and IIIA Models are smaller and have redesigned shutters. They retained the same lens mount, although there are some wide-angle lenses (like the 35mm Jupiter) that will not fit the post-War bodies.

These days, Zeiss lenses in Contax mount can be harder to find, and the wider lenses can get expensive. Nikon S-mount lenses 35mm or wider will work fine on a Contax, as will many Russian lenses, and Cosina recently discontinued making some excellent modern lenses https://cameraquest.com/NRFVoigt.htm .

If the camera has not been used or serviced in a long time, it will probably need some maintenance before being 100% usable. These are like old cars, they don't take well to sitting unused for years. Completely mechanical, no plastic or electronics, so if they have not been damaged or abused, a competent repairperson should be able to resolve any problems. Contax repair is harder to find these days, but here is one I am aware of: http://www.zeisscamera.com/services_contaxII.shtml

Good Luck!
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Old 05-13-2018   #5
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Welcome to RFF and to RF photography!


The pre-war Contax II is a brilliant camera with some great features. If it has not been exercised periodically by the previous owners, it may well need some attention before it is fully functional. On the other hand, when I received mine, I was so excited that I dry-fired it a few times to verify that the shutter speeds sounded reasonable, popped in a roll and shot it. It still works like a charm; sure, the viewfinder is small and a little dim compared to later cameras, but that does not detract from the pleasure of using this fine instrument.



In addition to the manual on Butkus' site, there are some videos here that might help you get started. Best of luck!
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Old 05-13-2018   #6
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Wow, thank you all so much for the quick advice and guidance. I don't yet know the full condition of the camera and functionality, as again, this is whole new photography ball game for me! From what I can tell, all seems to work well and fine, aside from maybe a little shutter sticking at times. The previous owner, yes, said that it has sat untouched for about 10 years, but before then, he said it was working flawlessly, so I am hopeful.

I did already make some inquires into CLA options, I have some leads, though I am finding many people don't service these fully (stopping with IIa models as oldest). My plan right now is to continue reading up on it, make an attempt to take a role of photos with it and see how that goes, while at the same time trying to lock down a proper place/person to service it, and then proceed with that.

Is there risk that even trying out a role to test it as-is might do more harm? If so, I won't risk it, though I'm eager to use it of course!
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Old 05-13-2018   #7
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Regarding CLAs, if you need one, Henry Scherer is considered to be the best, but expensive. The expense is probably beside the point for most people since he has about a 7 year wait list these days.
Though I have never used him, many have reported favorably on Contax repairs performed by Oleg, here: https://okvintagecamera.com/ocart/in...product_id=144

His pricing is hard to beat.

Congrats on the new, old Camera. They’re lovely, and nice to find one with a history like that.
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Old 05-13-2018   #8
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Hayata camera here in Japan does a great job for the Contax

probably 2 months waiting time at the most

theres somebody in Ukraine whos also competent but no personal experience from my side
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Old 05-13-2018   #9
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You might check out:

http://zackscamerarepair.com/

Who is relatively local to me. Small shop loaded with cameras, parts and so on. From talking with him it sounds like he repairs just about anything and will fabricate parts as needed too. Haven't used him for repair yet but I purchased a Vito III from him that he CLA'd and it is flawless.

Could also try Mark at [email protected]. He does IIas but I don't know about earlier cameras.

My IIa was said to have been CLA's from Forster camera in Salt Lake City. Camera is in great shape but it was missing two screws on the top cover under the shutter speed dial which was causing shutter speed problems @1/250 of a second until I figure that out. The loose top cover was preventing the shutter lock to engage so there was variability in the shutter speed cams. After I replaced the screws the shutter fires fine now.

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Old 05-13-2018   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by contaxNewb View Post
Hi,
New member, newbie to RF photography, but I recently acquired a '36, Contax II with a Carl Zeiss Jena, Sonnar 1:2, f=5cm lens from the original family owners. Cool provenance, was used in the War, and I am excited to give it a try.

Any advice on where to even start my education with it? I've been reading old threads, and getting some insights there, but having been through this same steep learning curve with vintage bicycles a while back, I figured I'd ask experts on best way to get at least partially up to speed with?

Any thoughts or guidance would be sincerely appreciated!! Thanks!
its a easy, intuitive camera to shoot.

Just start shooting and find your questions that way,
it won't take long to find the answers either.

Just remember to move the camera helical and the external lens helicals to infinity before you mount or remove external mount lenses.


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Old 05-14-2018   #11
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Hi,

In your shoes I would download and print the instruction manual; the original is 3" x 5". Then read it once or twice and then read it again with the camera in your hands and getting the feel of it. Stiffness winding on and so on would suggest a service to me.

Then put a film in it and see how it works in practice but you'll need a meter to get the exposure right and bracketing is a good idea with an old camera as that way you'll get an idea of how good it can be to encourage you.

Contax cameras are very different; the long RF base means a weird hold needed, changing lenses takes some getting use to (see the manual) and the higher speed(s) may not be accurate.

If the film turns out OK then start thinking about servicing because how well or badly it's been stored can affect it. Some say it's best to wait for the notorious shutter ribbons to fail before doing anything...


Regards, David

PS There's a good guide to it published years ago by the Focal press, easy to spot on ebay and so on as it has a very obvious red cover. And there's Freytag's book from the 1930's.

Last edited by David Hughes : 05-14-2018 at 02:14. Reason: The usual double feeds (CRLF).
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Old 05-14-2018   #12
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They are a beautifully designed and made camera. I have a ‘37 Contax II, also with the Sonnar 50/2. Sadly my lens has a damaged rear element coating, which spoils it. But be aware you can use the post-war Sonnar 50/2 lens if you have a similar problem.
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Old 05-16-2018   #13
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Not a main camera but a nice change of pace.

In some respects, still superior to what came afterwards -- e.g., the long rangefinder base, the big, wide rangefinder patch -- but really a Leica M mount or even a Nikon will feel more modern, and user friendly. Therefore, don't try to compare. I tend to use the Contax when I want a vintage piece, pretending to be Robert Capa storming the beaches at Normandy, instead of walking my dog in suburban safety.

Do try to get a pre-war Sonnar. The quality will surprise.

Have fun. Variety is good.

PS -- I acquired my Contax II from the son of the original owner. Given to him in the 1930's by his parents, before he travelled across the country, it showed little wear, almost true mint, but it stayed in his possession all those years until he passed away in his in his ninth decade in NYC. So yes, very cool to know the background of these old cameras. They've seen a lot.
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Old 05-16-2018   #14
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Be careful - I scratched the lens of my eyeglasses on the finder of my Contax IIa. That's when I decided that it wasn't a great camera for me, so I sold it and went to a Mamiya 7 II. The Contax was a beautiful gem of a camera, though.
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Old 05-16-2018   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RObert Budding View Post
Be careful - I scratched the lens of my eyeglasses on the finder of my Contax IIa. That's when I decided that it wasn't a great camera for me, so I sold it and went to a Mamiya 7 II. The Contax was a beautiful gem of a camera, though.
The old trick there is to use corn plasters. Same with Leicas, Nikons, or any of the those old rangefinders; most of them have that issue. Although DAG sells a more elegant solution for the M3/M2.
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Old 05-16-2018   #16
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Originally Posted by contaxNewb View Post
I did already make some inquires into CLA options, I have some leads, though I am finding many people don't service these fully (stopping with IIa models as oldest). My plan right now is to continue reading up on it, make an attempt to take a role of photos with it and see how that goes, while at the same time trying to lock down a proper place/person to service it, and then proceed with that.

Lots of folks not named Henry work on them.

The Alpa expert Radu Lesaru (USA) fixed a Contax II for me, as did Ed Trzoska (UK), though I understand Eddy is limiting his workload. Others too. Just start asking around.

And then lots of people do there own repairs. Contrary to what that guy in California says, it's not rocket science, and you don't need a magic wand.
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Old 05-16-2018   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by steveyork View Post
Lots of folks not named Henry work on them.

The Alpa expert Radu Lesaru (USA) fixed a Contax II for me, as did Ed Trzoska (UK), though I understand Eddy is limiting his workload. Others too. Just start asking around.

And then lots of people do there own repairs. Contrary to what that guy in California says, it's not rocket science, and you don't need a magic wand.
I second this. I successfully fixed mine through the help of the people here.

like I mentioned, Hayata Camera here in Japan does a great job
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Old 05-16-2018   #18
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Make sure you wind on / cock the shutter before changing shutter speeds. Trust me on this one, you do not wish to do the opposite! Some claim it does not matter with the Contax II but that is not my experience.
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Old 05-17-2018   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by steveyork View Post
Lots of folks not named Henry work on them.

The Alpa expert Radu Lesaru (USA) fixed a Contax II for me, as did Ed Trzoska (UK), though I understand Eddy is limiting his workload. Others too. Just start asking around.

And then lots of people do there own repairs. Contrary to what that guy in California says, it's not rocket science, and you don't need a magic wand.

Thanks for these leads and to everyone for the supportive encouragement. I bought a roll of BW film, and have been experimenting with shots, and so far, all the shutter speeds seem to be fine-- maybe the 1250 isn't though? But that seems a common issue?

I won't know for sure how well (or IF!) anything turns out until I get them developed. Will report back. So far, so good though.

Question-- so looking through the viewfinder it seems a little less clear than I would like-- is that dirt? Damage? Fungus? Age? Just wondering and if a cleaning would even address this? Sorry! As I said in my first post-- I am totally new at this! Thanks!
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Old 05-17-2018   #20
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dirt or desilvering

check my PM
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Old 05-18-2018   #21
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Originally Posted by contaxNewb View Post

Question-- so looking through the viewfinder it seems a little less clear than I would like-- is that dirt? Damage? Fungus? Age? Just wondering and if a cleaning would even address this? Sorry! As I said in my first post-- I am totally new at this! Thanks!

In my limited experience in having two pre-war con tax serviced, and handling a few others, a cleaning will brighten the viewfinder. Not surprising, after all, they're 80 year old cameras, and dirt and grime collects, but even cleaned they'll never be in the same league as a Leica M mount. Given the high contrast viewfinder of the Contax, however, with their great clarity, and long rangefinder base, they remain pretty easy to focus even with a relatively dimmer finder.

It's not the viewfinder, but probably the rangefinder mirrors that need cleaning. With most old rangefinders -- any brand -- do that and things dramatically improve.
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Old 05-18-2018   #22
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Originally Posted by steveyork View Post

It's not the viewfinder, but probably the rangefinder mirrors that need cleaning. With most old rangefinders -- any brand -- do that and things dramatically improve.
Every optical surface of the beamsplitter rangefinder unit must be cleaned and so do all the internal surfaces of the VF & RF windows and eyepiece unit.

On the Contax II, the signs of aging of the VF/RF unit are "golden droplets" (Canada balsam getting dry and brittle) visible in the main VF unit when looked at from the front.

The Contax II beamsplitter rangefinder unit can be replaced with one from a Kiev camera. They are 100% identical.
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Old 05-18-2018   #23
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Originally Posted by Highway 61 View Post
Every optical surface of the beamsplitter rangefinder unit must be cleaned and so do all the internal surfaces of the VF & RF windows and eyepiece unit.

On the Contax II, the signs of aging of the VF/RF unit are "golden droplets" (Canada balsam getting dry and brittle) visible in the main VF unit when looked at from the front.

The Contax II beamsplitter rangefinder unit can be replaced with one from a Kiev camera. They are 100% identical.

Wow, okay, you guys are good!

So, uh oh...unfortunately, I am pretty certain it is the "golden droplets" (balsam separation), though mine aren't like droplets, but more like a kind of gold-wrinkle/foil looking effect on about 1/4-1/3 of the peripheral edge of the viewfinder when looked at from the front. It kind of matches some images on line.

So I have clearly read that this is bad, does it mean the camera is basically worthless, save some costly repair? Will the film I have in there not turn out at all or...? Unfortunately all the posts and things I can read about this online kind of stop with saying it's bad and will/is failure....

Just wondering, since I found a good person for a CLA, but I don't want to throw good money after bad or even waste shipping it there for inspection if it is irreparable or prohibitively so? Any advice or wisdom?
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Old 05-19-2018   #24
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Hi,

Please don't think you have thrown good money away because you haven't. At the end of the day you have a classic Contax and are taking pictures with it and gaining experience. For a yardstick look at the cost of a new (or new-ish) film camera and a contemporary lens.

It might be that the camera needs a little attention to make it 100% perfect but there's a lot of them (and old Leicas) that are only 95% perfect and yet they turn out good pictures. My Contax is over 80 years old and I'd be delighted if I was in that state at 80+.

So finish the film and see what you have and then think about it for a bit and, perhaps, put another film through it. Then decide if you can live with it as it is or else sort out a few things.

I don't know where you stand with regard to photography but you may only have used a smart phone and some of the latest digital stuff; in that case you'll need to adjust mentally to use and understand the Contax. Luckily there's a lot of second-hand bookshops left with photography books and they can be a great help understanding film cameras and especially the historic and classic ones.

And there's something else you might have already discovered; you'll meet and greet a lot of film photographers when using it and some of them might offer you old film cameras and you'll have a lot of fun. And fun is what it should all be about.

There's another blessing that's seldom mentioned and that is that you'll find your understanding & appreciation of these new-fangled digital cameras increases. ;-)

Regards, David

PS If you want another yardstick for prices and value, look into buying a genuine lens hood, lens cap and instruction book from the 1930's to go with the camera and lens. You'll then see that the cameras and repairs are dirt cheap.

Last edited by David Hughes : 05-19-2018 at 01:42. Reason: Those extra LFCR's...
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Old 05-19-2018   #25
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So, uh oh...unfortunately, I am pretty certain it is the "golden droplets" (balsam separation), though mine aren't like droplets, but more like a kind of gold-wrinkle/foil looking effect on about 1/4-1/3 of the peripheral edge of the viewfinder when looked at from the front. It kind of matches some images on line.
This isn't a difficult problem to solve out. For the price of three beers at the pub you will find a Kiev rangefinder donor body on eBay (get one from the 1970s so chances will be quite high, that the RF beamsplitter unit will be perfect and like new) and have your repair person swap the parts while he has the camera in his workshop for an overhaul.

There is someone on eBay UK selling a beamsplitter prism unit only (item 323257702383) but it shows the same problem as yours - don't buy it.
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Old 05-19-2018   #26
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So, uh oh...unfortunately, I am pretty certain it is the "golden droplets" (balsam separation), though mine aren't like droplets, but more like a kind of gold-wrinkle/foil looking effect on about 1/4-1/3 of the peripheral edge of the viewfinder when looked at from the front. It kind of matches some images on line.
Lovely to see this fantastic pre-war camera being reanimated with life.

I've been using a Contax II for 15 years - it's required one proper service (undertaking the rest on my own) during this time, whereas a Kiev IVa, hasn't required any. If you are in London, the Photographica Fair is on this weekend at Vincent's Square, and many of the stallholders who specialise in repairs can advise (for free) what you might need.

One way to test if it is your rangefinder unit, might be to tape yellow cellophane over the rangefinder window on the far right of the camera and observe if there is any difference in sharpening the double image rangefinder focussing.

I experienced a chemical immersive clean for a different camera viewfinder by a UK repairer which stunned me. For the first time, I could see clearly through the viewfinder and in 20 years had never noticed just how fogged the viewfinder was. Perhaps not all CLA's are done to the same standards, so it might be worth checking which technique for cleaning the viewfinder, resilvering the beam-splitter and so on, the technician might undertake after an appraisal of the repair requirements.

The Kiev, like the Jupiter lenses, are great back-ups when you find the right one; the right year. The frame spacing challenges on the Kiev IVa are very frustrating, losing approximately one frame per 36 exp roll, which might not seem a lot, however if it is a discontinued film, every frame counts.

Perhaps now, the Contax II is seen as more quirky and requires understanding (the Contax rangefinder book is a good place to start). With the Contax II, it's a pleasure obtaining on average 39 exposures per cassette, by loading completely in the dark. This is impossible to undertake on a Leica III series rangefinder due to its upside down loading.

Hope you get it working soon!

Kind regards,
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Old 05-19-2018   #27
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Load it and shoot it. Don't be too picky at first. Plain old consumer color film is a great way to start because those films are usually pretty forgiving if the exposures are not exactly dead on because of a slightly sticky shutter. Try to work with the mid range shutter speeds at first since these are more likely to be working properly in the beginning. After time, with a bit of use, any hesitation caused by old lubricant will likely work itself out.

Show us what you get. We would love to see your photographs.

You might just be surprised how well it works as it is right now. Most old cameras just need a bit of attention and use and they preform pretty well.

My experience has been that using the camera will help you build some experience with how it works, and what parts seem to need help. That information will certainly help the repair tech when you do send it off for some work, and it will definitely help keep your costs down as well.

These old rangefinders all have viewfinders that are a little squinty but you will get used to it. Once you begin using it you will find it gets easier.
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Old 05-19-2018   #28
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A PS to my earlier post; meaning the memory let me down...

Anyway, please could people think in terms of getting it repaired without zapping a Kiev. They are part of the Contax line, like Japanese cameras assembled in, say, China from Japanese parts and then finally made and assembled in China but for different reasons. And they are coming up to 65 or so years old and so a venerable classic camera in their own right. So we should be looking to preserve them.

Just my 2d worth and second thoughts, aimed at no one in particular.

Regards, David
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Old 05-22-2018   #29
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Update for anyone following along: midway through the roll of film, the shutter seemed to malfunction... bummer...



So off went the roll to developer to see what if anything took in the first half, and off goes the camera tomorrow for a repair/cla estimate...
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Old 05-23-2018   #30
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We'll all keep our fingers crossed for you.

Regards, David
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Old 05-29-2018   #31
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Load it and shoot it.
Show us what you get. We would love to see your photographs.

Well, good news... or at least decent news. I just got the pictures back from developer, and the ones I did as a test before the shutter stopped functioning turned out decent enough (pleasantly surprised for my first pictures ever with a range finder!).

Plus, I shipped it off to service shop and estimate to service and the service doesn't break my bank, assuming it doesn't need major parts. Still crossing fingers on that one!!



Anyway, here's a couple test shots. The close up one of the limpets on the rock isn't the greatest but was the last to actually work on the roll and one of only two real attempts at a close up.

So, crossing the fingers once it's back from service it will be reliable enough for me to continue experimenting and actually improve my skills!


Also, any idea show I can post larger pics like those I see in other threads? These thumbnails actually don't do the picture resolution justice.
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